Mika Tanner

Smuggling Some Soil from Silicon Valley – 5 learnings


By Mika Tanner

I travelled to The Silicon Valley to see for myself what it is all about. In hindsight, perhaps it was a kind of energy vaccination against lethal opportunity myopia. During a turbo-charged week of meetings, I met dozens of people and got to see and feel The Valley first hand.

Now I try to answer questions like ‘So what?’ What are the exploitable learning points? Is my inspiration transferrable?

It would be naïve to expect that one can just smuggle handful of The Valley soil back home and expect that planting your local seed in it will change something. You need to make a couple of conversions back to the metric system to see if you can translate something into actionable learning points. There are a few I found useful to work on.

“Shit. I know shit’s bad right now, with all that starving bullshit, and the dust storms, and we are running out of french fries and burrito coverings. But I got a solution.” – President Camacho

1. Attitude & mind-set. I think this is the essence of The Valley and it comes in many forms: relentlessness, entrepreneurship, can-do, positivity/optimism, laid back, cooperativeness/openness, curiosity, competitiveness and pragmatism. I think you might need to seek fulfilment intrinsically, but I bet if you import The Valley attitude into your guidance system, you will open yourself to new opportunities.

Tip: Create an alter-ego – your valley-character who has the above traits. Mine is Mike. Whenever I question myself, my demeanour or my decisions, I’ll check what Mike would do in the same situation. A check-list of sorts.

2. Think Big. This is my favourite. It is not so much about daydreaming as it is about what kind of questions arise from raising the bar ridiculously high. It has a kinship with attitude, but I like to keep it separate. What would need to have happened if my business is 10x..100x…1000x in 10 years? This is about “if I was to start my business today, what it would be about”. It is about removing your mental barriers (“we can’t because..”) and giving room for inspiration.

Tip: Create an outrageously bold news headline which is published 5 years from now in a leading business journal: “your business has grown 100x” or “your business has just become number #1 in the global market”… For added impact, make a mock version of the cover page with your people on it. Have your management team answer the question. Have them explore what must have happened to make the headline true. Don’t be surprised from the fresh insight you get. Of the new questions. Of the new energy.

3. Focus. Focus. Focus. And one more time focus. This is not really new and actually a no-brainer, but actively executing on focus is much easier said than done. Successful gaming companies do this all the time. In its purest form, streamlining your efforts and maximising your business aerodynamics is not easy. You need consciously decide to let go and terminate things you might have spent valuable time on. A milder form of focus is prioritization. This is a little easier, and can be applied to just about everything.

Tip: Deserted Island routine. If you were stranded on a deserted island in the middle of a shark-infested ocean of endless opportunities, which one single piece of your business would you take with you with which would have the best chance of survival and success.

4. Perfect pitch. Instead of avoiding interaction and dazing at your shoelaces, find your way to situations where you get to pitch. It is a privilege. A good pitch is an excellent short story. Really short. Really excellent. And make it a story, because stories are loved and they are remembered. Expect the span of attention of your audience to be about 30 seconds. If they are still with you, you get another 30 seconds and so on… And you need to get your story told in 90 seconds. Make every word count. It is about simplifying complex things into something you can easily explain.

Tip: Really do it. And repeat. I recently volunteered to pitch at a business summit in front of 100 young talents. I was given 3 minutes to convince them to apply to work for us. Learning to swim in the shark tank (and survive unscathed) is a precondition for surviving in today’s business world.  

5. Purpose is one today’s big buzz words yet so fundamentally important. The most iconic and the most successful Silicon Valley companies have been purpose driven. Purpose is atomic energy and helps you get through when the going gets tough. In a company which is not genuinely purpose driven, it is sometimes hard to identify purpose, other than the obvious financial purpose of rather making money than losing it. I believe that it is worthwhile to explore purpose and expect it to uncover some new thinking.

Tip: Don’t fool yourself. Not all companies have a meaningful or noble purpose. The likelihood your company already has one is not that high. You can try to retrofit a purpose to your business, but most likely it will not be convincing or shared by your people. Then again, you might have a purpose, but you just haven’t articulated it because it hasn’t been on your agenda. If you know why people choose you, that is likely to be related to your purpose.

 

Other stories inspired by the visit to The Valley: